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6 Ways to Approach Song Structure If You’re New to Songwriting

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The structure of your songs has a big impact on the way your listeners will take them in. Writing lyrics and a catchy melody is one thing, but sculpting the journey that one is taken on as they move through a song is what separates the best songwriters on the planet from everyone else.

As a new songwriter, the many varieties of songform might come naturally to you, or it might be a goal that you’re shooting to improve on. But luckily, while there are a ton of models out there for how songs are made to function, there are no hard and fast rules — which means you’re free to learn what tools you need, and then bend them to suit your songwriting practice.

So here are some of those tools — six songwriting structures I often use to organize my songs. Enjoy!

1. The Verse-Refrain

Most commonly seen in classical music, the “Verse-Refrain” is one of the simplest song structures. It consists of verses followed by a short refrain that sums the song’s message up quickly and easily (functioning somewhat like a chorus). The Beatles wrote many successful verse refrain songs throughout their career. Though the verse-refrain has almost completely disappeared from modern music, it is still an effective tool for certain songs. And as it is important to always keep in mind, history has a tendency to repeat itself!

2. The Verse-Chorus

This is just a modern version of the previous one. This form, the Verse-Chorus, is pretty self-explanatory. Your verses should lead into a summarizing chorus that ties everything together. This is an extremely popular song structure right now, and has been for many years, and one that every songwriter should master.

3. Utilizing the Prechorus

Perhaps the most popular song form in modern music, the Verse-Prechorus-Chorus is also very versatile and strong. It features the inclusion of a prechorus, a bridge between your verse and your chorus that ties the two sections together with a central idea or melody, or a way to flip your chord progression around so the chorus makes sense starting on a new chord.

Prechoruses can either be repeated before each chorus (and used occasionally as a bridge) or they can be taken out after they are used the first time. Either works just fine, as long as you build your song around its use with intention. The prechorus is an important tool for writers to test out in order to tie any loose ends together, or add new melodic hooks in to beef the song’s singability up. Definitely take the time to experiment with this form.

4. Free Form

Something most recently popularized in Post Malone’s work, Free Form writing is when your song structure is very loose, or follows little to no repetitive form at all; eight bars or this, 11 bars of that, the chorus not always falling in the same place after the verse, etc. In modern music it usually is represented as a song with no repetitive verse structures, and with the chorus still remaining somewhat, or completely the same each time.

Free Form is fun to experiment with as there it features no rigid structure. You can write however you want, whatever you want. The danger with Free Form is that you’ve still got to ensure that there is enough melodic “ear candy” or motif usage so that the listener will have something to grab onto and remember your work.

5. Bridges, Intros, and Outros

Bridges usually occur after the second chorus and before the last chorus. They’re where you twist your concept one final time, or say anything you might not have had the chance to say up until that point in the song. intros and outros are the lead in and closing out of the song. All three of these things can be instrumental or space filled with some form of lyrics or motif melody. These song sections can add heavy hitting emotion and hooks to capture your listener, basically anywhere you place them.

6. Pop Structure (a.k.a, It’s All About the Chorus!)

As pop songs are usually given a pretty conservative time limit (2:45 on average and shrinking by the decade), there isn’t usually time for an outro. Intros are becoming increasingly rare as well. On top of that, the chorus (or more commonly referred to nowadays as “the hook”) has become the primary focus of most pop songwriters today.

Top 40 songs usually reach the first appearance of a chorus at around 0:45 seconds in. In other words, they rush to the chorus. What does this mean, other than that a song’s memorability is more important than its meaning and message? I’m not sure, but it’s a valid way to write and sell your song, that’s for sure!

So, now that you’re equipped with some of the tools and knowledge of the most common forms of song structure, keep in mind yet again that there are no rules to songwriting! There are only basic ideas and pieces of advice that you can borrow from as you sit down and create something that’s meaningful to you! It’s helpful to have these weapons in your arsenal. When it comes down to it, the best thing you can do as a new songwriter experimenting with song structure is to try and write with all kinds of structures and figure out what works best for you.

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Sammy Hakim
Sammy Hakim

Sammy Hakim is an up-and-coming young songwriter based in New York City. In May, 2018 she graduated from Berklee College of Music with a Major in songwriting and a focus in music business. These days she spends most of her time in songwriting sessions with artists all over the country.